Category Archives: Op-Ed

Opinion: Assyrians don’t have to face generational trauma alone

Our community must begin an open dialogue about mental illness and embrace outside support. 

By Dr. Ramina Jajoo-Frindrich | December 2022

So what does a rheumatologist and a psychiatrist have in common? After all, one medical field specializes in musculoskeletal ailments and rare disabling autoimmune disorders, while the other focuses on the emotional and mental well-being of an individual. 

It turns out, a lot more than meets the eye. Although one could say it is common knowledge that chronic pain from arthritis leads to anxiety and depression, many people with clinical depression experience physical discomfort and fibromyalgia, an often debilitating, chronic and diffuse bodily pain syndrome. Given extensive persecution and trauma suffered by our people, how does this mind and body connection manifest itself? More importantly, is our community ready to discuss a much-tabooed subject such as psychiatric disorders?

A few years ago, I was treating an Assyrian patient for Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that causes dryness of the eyes and mouth and, in severe cases, inflamed joints and multiorgan malfunction, even death.

For reasons unbeknown to me, he started flaring. After a few visits, he finally admitted that he never took his medication. Gradually, he became more irate, demanding immediate control of his symptoms yet refusing standard pharmacological remedies. In his words, “I become like a lion when I am in pain. I will destroy anything and anyone in my path if I don’t get what I want.” 

After threatening and verbally abusing my staff, even propositioning one of them, I was left with no choice but to prioritize the safety of my employees. A decision was made to discharge him from the practice. Interestingly, I would occasionally run into him at our church during Sunday brunch.  

After a few similar incidents, I started wondering if a behavior such as this is a manifestation of cultural upbringing as opposed to prior traumatic events, affecting generations within a community, or even perhaps a combination of the two. 

It wasn’t until I started volunteering at Seyfo Center, also known as the Assyrian Genocide Research Center, and through talking with several genocide scholars and attending various lectures on Holocaust and other genocides that I learned about intergenerational, or generational, trauma. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 5 Americans experience mental health illness in a given year. In comparison, Sjogren’s syndrome affects only 1% of the population, thus making mental health disease a far more common condition. 

The incidence of mental health disorders in the Assyrian community remains unknown for a variety of reasons that are beyond the scope of discussion in this article. However, it may be reasonable to assume that given the extensive and ongoing trauma and persecution suffered by our people, the incidence of conditions such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and personality disorders such as borderline personality (BPD) is significantly higher. 

One of the most extensively studied group of people with somewhat similar experiences are the children of Holocaust survivors. According to the American Psychological Association, in 1966, Canadian psychiatrist Vivian M. Rakoff, MD and his colleagues recorded high rates of psychological distress among children of individuals who survived the Holocaust, and the concept of generational trauma was first recognized. 

Since then, numerous studies have looked at intergenerational trauma among the Jewish people. For instance, a similar study in 1988 found signs and symptoms of trauma in the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. It is theorized that generational trauma can be induced through in-utero exposure to chemicals involved in maternal stress, such as cortisol, that impact future development or through epigenetic changes. These are the changes to an individual’s DNA as a result of a traumatic experience that can theoretically be passed down through generations

It is hypothesized that changes in the DNA impact brain development, and affect how the limbic system in the brain regulates emotions and how one responds to stress. This, in turn, impacts personalities, relationships, parenting, communication, and views of the world. 

Of particular interest to me was borderline personality disorder (BPD); not to be confused with bipolar disorder. BPD has a lifetime prevalence of 6% and is characterized by instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, emotions, and impulsivity across a wide range of situations, causing significant impairment or subjective distress, fear of abandonment, increased risk of substance abuse and, in severe cases, self-harm and suicide. 

For readers interested in this particular type of personality disorder, I recommend “I hate you, don’t leave me”  by Jerold Kreisman, MD and Hal Strauss. In a personality disorder, one’s way of thinking, feeling, and behaving deviates from the expectations of the culture, causes distress or problems functioning, and lasts over time. The pattern of behavior usually begins in late adolescence or early adulthood. Without treatment, personality disorders can persist with devastating outcomes. 

Treatment of generational trauma typically involves any combination of individual, group, or family therapy with or without medications in the more severe and debilitating cases. Secondary anxiety, depression and PTSD must be addressed as well. 

It is a well-known and researched fact that individuals with strong family ties and community support do much better in terms of coping with stress and trauma. Historically and characteristically, Assyrians have been very family-oriented and support was generally abundantly available in various settings such as extended families and friendships formed through volunteerism at various charitable organizations and churches. However, given mass migration and families losing members due to persecution or simply getting separated from their loved ones, makes this more challenging in the case of genocide survivors and their descendants. 

The church and the clergy are particularly in a unique position in that they can provide spiritual support to our traumatized nation. Within the psychiatric world, it is an established and much-studied fact that persons with higher spirituality and self-transcendence have a stronger ability to cope with change and adversity. 

Although we as Assyrians can take advantage of these community-based resources with relative ease, we have yet to tap into our broader medical community that can offer professional and target-specific treatments that are currently available. 

“Knowing you aren’t alone or helpless and knowing that there may have been factors outside of your control might help process the trauma,” says licensed clinical psychologist and parenting evaluator Melanie English, PhD in an article by Health magazine. “When we process things and understand them, we can then often find coping mechanisms. When we find coping mechanisms, we can heal, and redefine ourselves and reclaim a part of our life.”

As my paternal grandparents barely survived the genocide of 1915 at the hands of Ottoman Turkey and their Kurdish allies, it would have been amazing if services such as counseling had been readily available to them. Regrettably, that is no longer possible. 

However, in the aftermath of ISIS, as Assyrians are migrating to the diaspora, we must ensure that our community has easy access to not only community-based resources but also mental health specialists. It is time that we shun the taboo associated with mental health illnesses and become proactive in caring for our emotional as well as physical well-being. 

An open dialogue on platforms such as The Assyrian Journal is a step in the right direction, hoping that we can reduce abnormal and counterproductive behavior, such as that elicited by my former patient, and ultimately prevent it from becoming an accepted cultural norm.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Assyrian Journal.

Author: Dr. Ramina Jajoo-Frindrich was born in Tehran and completed medical school in Australia. She is a retired Rheumatologist residing in Phoenix. Dr. Jajoo was previously a partner at Arizona Arthritis and Rheumatology Associates. She currently serves as strategic consultant and president of Seyfo Center, Arizona Chapter.

Opinion: A modest but great challenge for the Church of the East

Will the Eastern Christian church overcome internal division and walk down the road to progress?

By Robert DeKelaita | May 2022

The Church of the East has been through turbulent times across the centuries; conquests, persecution, genocide, and the destruction of whole communities. Despite the many difficulties, the Church survived largely among the very people that formed its foundations and are most associated with it, the Assyrians, maintaining its own unique Christian faith and cultural heritage. This month, bishops of the Church of the East have come together to lessen their difficulties and end the most recent schism.

Mar Eshai Shimun XXIII (

Since 1920, the Church of the East was headed by Mar Eshai Shimun XXIII , who had been patriarch since his consecration at the age of 12, having succeeded his uncle, Mar Polous Shimun in a line of hereditary succession going back hundreds of years. As a result of Mar Shimun’s involvement in his nation’s political struggle in Iraq after the First World War, he was exiled to Cyprus by the Iraqi government with the support of the British in 1933. In 1940, he came to Chicago and lived there until moving to California in 1954. Unlike their patriarch, most of the Assyrian members of the Church of the East had lived in Iraq, Iran, and Syria.

In 1964, a dispute erupted between the patriarch and Metropolitan Mar Toma Darmo, who had been consecrated by Mar Shimun for India. Mar Toma was critical of the patriarchal hereditary succession that he felt was advocated by his patriarch, and of the ‘modernization’ being advocated by Mar Shimun in the West, including Mar Shimun’s switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. The dispute between the patriarch and Mar Toma led to a schism within the Church in 1968, when Mar Toma came to Iraq and was elevated to the position of a rival patriarch in Baghdad.

One year after his consecration as patriarch, Mar Toma died. Mar Addai II succeeded Mar Toma and became patriarch from 1972 until his death in Arizona in 2022. Though the two hierarchies had no Christological disputes, they operated independently of each other. Mar Shimun had difficulties of his own within his Church and in 1975, after his resignation and subsequent marriage, he was assassinated in California and a new patriarch, Mar Dinkha IV, who had been the bishop in Iran, was elected in 1976 in London.

Mar Toma Darmo (Facebook: Mark Gewargis)

The two patriarchs, Mar Addai II, who resided in Baghdad, and Mar Dinkha IV, who resided in Morton Grove, Illinois, tried but failed to reunite their Church. With the passing of both Mar Dinkha and Mar Addai, and the selection of a young, American-born, new patriarch for the Assyrian Church of the East in Erbil, Mar Awa III, expectations of a reunion grew. The new patriarch made clear that resolving the 1968 schism was a priority and so Chicago, the patriarch’s birthplace, has become a place to attempt to solve the problems that occurred in 1968 Baghdad.

Why is this attempt important? Many speculate that there has never been a time when the Church’s faith and cultural heritage have been in greater danger of losing their existence. For the first time in its history, most adherents of the Church are no longer in the East, but in the West, where the Church of the East’s role as a religious, social, and cultural gravitational force is of paramount importance. Although Mar Awa was consecrated in Erbil and has brought back his patriarchal seat there, the survival of the Church in the West is critical.

If the Church is unable to organize itself and tackle issues that have threatened larger denominations, such as the growing secularism and assimilation into larger societies in the West, it is doubtful that it could live on – either in the East or the West. On the other hand, the Church and the Assyrians in charge could view ending the schism as a challenge they are both willing and able to undertake and solve before moving on to greater tasks; improving their pastoral skills and reach, enhancing their administrative services, building better and more innovative relations with parishioners, introducing necessary liturgical reforms, and establishing libraries and schools for their coming generations and priests.

Mar Addai II (Facebook: Mark Gewargis)

The current schism offers the Church – both clergy and parishioners – an opportunity to get on the ‘right side’ of history and eliminate this internal division. This effort is viewed by the Assyrian public as a litmus test of sorts, a symbolic gesture of competence in handling difficulties. If the Church is unable to heal its own wound, its chance of succeeding in other matters is questionable. Indeed, Assyrian Christianity , as a unique religious and cultural institution, could be on the road to extinction one misstep at a time. And the inability of Church leaders to ‘fix’ this internal division is a step toward extinction.

On the other hand, a healing of the schism would present members of the Church and outsiders as well a symbolic and concrete indication that this accomplishment is a step toward a renaissance. A renaissance, like extinction, will not come all at once. It will come in steps, sometimes big and sometimes small, but always in the right direction. One direction that is right is the recent attempt to end the existing schism. A recent article in Asia News noted that the “union, formal but also practical, is the only way to face the danger of [the Assyrian Christians’] slow but inexorable disappearance that has hung over them for decades.” (Asia News, April 23, 2022)

Being mindful of this, the six bishops have indicated that they are hopeful and positive about their chances to end the schism and reclaim their glorious past. That past is important to the Church, the Assyrians, and the world. It is also an essential part of the collective memory of Assyrian Christians.

Assyrian Christianity is linked to the apostles. According to the Doctrine of Mar Addai and Mar Mari, Assyrians witnessed “the signs which Mar Addai did, and those of them who became disciples, received from them the hand of the priesthood, and in their own country of the Assyrians they taught the sons of their people, and houses of prayer they built there secretly…”

The advancement of the Christian faith came gradually in Assyria as it competed with and even adopted the ancient faith practices of the Assyrians. As the Christian creed grew, competing doctrines explaining the nature of Christ developed and eventually led to the formation of two prominent churches on Assyrian soil; the Church of the East, centered in the heartland of Assyria, and the Syriac Orthodox Church, mainly out of Antioch and in Western Assyria. Both the Church of the East and the Syriac Orthodox Church based their liturgy in the Syriac language and grew out of the same cultural and linguistic environment rooted in the Assyrian population and landscape.

As the ancient state structure of Assyria disintegrated, the hierarchical structure of the Church became the lead organizing force for the Assyrian population. The Church of the East developed both a provincial center in Assyria, centered in the cities of Nineveh, Arbela (modern Erbil), and numerous other Assyrian towns and villages, and a more cosmopolitan church in central Mesopotamia, in the cities of Seleucia and Ctesiphon, where the Sasanian empire reigned prior to the arrival of Islam . From central Mesopotamia, under both the Sasanian empire and later the Abbasids, the Church’s missionaries went forth to convert non-Christians into its fold.

Mar Awa III’s first mission has been to strengthen the presence of the Assyrian Church of the East in the heartland of Assyria (northern Iraq), where he has set his patriarchal seat. (Facebook: His Holiness Catholicos-Patriarch Mar Awa III)

Starting from the Sixth century, the Church of the East began the greatest missionary enterprise undertaken by any Church. At its Apex, the Church of the East’s members in Asia outnumbered the Christians of the Catholic and Orthodox churches combined as its churches dotted the landscape from China to the borders of the Byzantine empire. The Church of the East converted Arabs, Turks, Kurds, Persians, Indians, Chinese, and other peoples in Asia.

Unlike European Christians, who were supported by powerful monarchs with military might, the Church of the East used intellect and diplomacy to win converts. “For behold,” states Mar Timotheus, Patriarch of the Church of the East (780-823 AD), “in all of the lands of Babel, Persia, and Assyria, and in all of the Eastern lands and amongst Beth Hinduwaye (India) and indeed amongst Beth Sinaye (China), amongst Beth Turtaye (Tatars) and likewise amongst Beth Turkaye (Turks) and in all of the domains under this patriarchal throne – this [throne] of which God commanded that we be its servants and likewise its ministers – that one who…is from eternity, without increase, who was crucified on our behalf – is proclaimed, indeed in different and diverse lands and races and languages.”

Patriarch Mar Timotheus personified the spirit of the Church of the East at the time; a love of learning and intellect combined with energetic zeal to spread the Christian faith and to grow and strengthen the Church. Through the efforts of Mar Timotheus and many patriarchs, bishops and priests like him, the Church of the East left its mark on the spiritual and physical landscapes of various countries in Asia. Today, millions of Christians in India trace their membership in the Church of the East and the Syriac Orthodox Church to the missionary efforts of the bishops, priests, and monks of the Church of the East from Assyria.

The once-thriving community of the Church of the East, however, was unable to maintain its existence like the Christian communities of the West. Inter-Christian rivalries, periodic persecutions by Muslim rulers, and, finally, the Mongol invasions of Timur in particular, devastated the Church of the East and the Syriac Orthodox Church. Timur’s massacres and pillages of all that was Christian reduced Assyrian Christianity to a miserable state in the Middle East.

At the end of the reign of Timur, Assyrian churches were nearly eradicated. In two locations, however, they survived; in the provinces of Christian Assyria (in the districts of Beth Garme, Adiabene, Arbela, Karkh dlbeth Seluq [Kirkuk], Nuhadra [Dohuk], Nineveh [Mosul], etc.), where the church had acquired much of its sustenance, and in the Hakkari mountains of today’s southeastern Turkey as well as in Urmia and Salamas in today’s Iran, where the Assyrians lived largely an isolated existence until being evicted by Kurds and Ottoman troops during the First World War.

Additionally, the Indian members of the Church remained faithful in the Malabar district in southern India. All the other diocese of the Church of the East were lost.

The Syriac Orthodox Church suffered much as well. Toward the end of the thirteenth century, Bishop Bar Hebraeus found “much quietness” in his diocese in Mesopotamia. Syria’s diocese, he wrote, was “wasted.” Only a few, according to a scholar of the Syriac Orthodox Church, survived the “blood-soaked decades.”

Despite all the difficulties and calamities they had endured, Assyrian Christians survived and persisted. In the Sixteenth century, the Church of the East splintered because of internal disputes, resulting in the formation of the Chaldean Church, which came into union with Rome. The Syriac Orthodox Church also fractured and from it was formed the Syriac Catholic Church in the seventeenth century. Still later, the Church of the East splintered again, resulting in the formation of the Ancient Church of the East in 1968 being now addressed in Chicago. The split between the two sides of the Church of the East is based on administrative, rather than Christological differences.

Dialogue committees between the Ancient Church of the East and Assyrian Church of the East during the second days of church reunification talks in Chicago. (Facebook: Assyrian Church of the East – Diocese of the Eastern USA)

In Chicago, bishops from both sides struggle together in the hope of reviving confidence in their ancient Church and, perhaps for the first time in decades, taking a concrete step toward the much-anticipated reunification. One announcement asks parishioners to pray for the bishops so that they can “restore the Church of the East to its glory.”

If the history of the Church of the East, and of the Assyrian people, inspires the bishops, they will likely find a way to take a step in the right direction toward reunification and end of the schism. They will likely recall the glory of their ancient Church, realize the dangers they face as a people and a faith community, and become inspired, just as their ancestor Patriarch Mar Timotheus, to build and strengthen their Church and to become a stronger gravitational force for their people in the diaspora and the Middle East.

No doubt, the turbulent centuries and the recent experiences of the Church and its people will be recalled and contemplated by the bishops as they consider the judgment of future generations if they fail.

All eyes are watching and waiting for hopeful signs of the end to the schism and a new beginning. It is now in the hands of the bishops to lead their Church and people to overcome a challenge that may seem modest but could have great consequences that may “restore the Church of the East to its glory.”

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the The Assyrian Journal.

Opinion: Homeland as a .com

July 2018 | By Nardin Sarkis

Watching the World Cup and Olympic Games with no country to root for, being unrepresented at the United Nations.

These are just a handful of experiences that the world’s few stateless peoples experience growing up. They constitute some of the first touchstone moments that begin the realization in individuals that they belong to a stateless nation – and therefore will navigate the world differently.

As an Assyrian, this realization came early. I was constantly reminded by my family and community that while I have an ancestral homeland, I no longer have a country.

I was born an American, grateful for the refuge it offered my family and eager to take advantage of its freedoms, yet I knew that America was just a happenstance of refuge. In the four generations of my family tree, Russia, Iran, Italy, Iraq, Belgium, Australia, England, and Sweden had all played a role as “foster country” or “adopted country” to my extended family.

As I tried my best to embrace my American identity as an adolescent, I was also confronted with uncommon interactions with the vast diaspora of my scattered nation. For example, summer visits to countries around the world to meet my mother’s cousins or father’s childhood friends became pilgrimages to a world that had become inaccessible due to politics and paperwork beyond our control. I had even grown accustomed to being introduced to annual visitors, with faces I did not know from countries I had not seen, as “auntie” or “cousin”.

Massacres and revolutions had dispersed Assyrians around the world. Respecting the customs of the countries that take us in while simultaneously clinging to our language and heritage had become our way of life. For the first generation born in the diaspora, though, this realization of a worldwide network of people without a place to call home felt daunting. It rendered assimilation inevitable. After all, once my grandparents and parents are gone, how was I to sustain these global relationships of people who once lived side by side?

All of these notions of diaspora, identity, and continuance clouded my mind as I came of age during the technology revolution, and in the heart of Silicon Valley no less. I watched with widened eyes as my father and uncle helped each other to carry in our first clunky desktop computer. I was quick to create an AOL instant messaging account and patiently wait for my mother to get off of the phone so that I could dial-up the internet. As if it was instinct, one of my first google searches was “Assyrians around the world”. Like a victim of natural disaster reaching the help center to find lost family members, I would search for churches, cultural organizations, singers, and any Assyrian group I could find online. I perused for hours, adding friends and followers from all corners of the world to interact with this invisible world we had all been told of: our virtual homeland.

Suddenly, my community of a few thousand in California did not feel so small.

My parents would come to use these technologies in a much more personal way. At first anxious about sites like Myspace, they would eventually join Facebook and use it more frequently than my sister or I did. Facebook groups dedicated to the nostalgia of old neighborhoods or summer camps quickly formed. Photos and comments from long lost neighbors surfaced, alongside inboxes bursting with memories and messages from peers unheard of for 30 years. Skype calls connected family members whose faces had gone unseen for decades due to the harshness of borders and bureaucracy. From each corner of the world, the exiled used these social networking tools to make the connections they so desperately longed for. Message by message, like by like, they began rebuilding separated families and communities.

Today, a new approach has surfaced from these initial connections. What was once a disparaged and meager community scattered around the world has found a “public sphere” online. Issues of the moment and breaking news regarding our communities can be immediately discussed. We can stream the opening of a new community center in Australia just as easily as we can watch a gut wrenching Facebook Live video of Assyrians being expelled from our ancestral homeland. In both times, we are instantly connected.

Media groups have formed to disseminate information using these tools of mass communication. Perhaps more importantly, though, individuals can now find each other and make connections otherwise restricted to nations with borders.

Like any community or forum, these tools are not without their challenges. Faceless accounts troll pages with inflammatory comments, those too anxious to accept the future nervously typing on their anonymous keyboards. As any forum, these discussions can be used for advancement or division with the trend skewing towards the former.

Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook have created centers of gravity for Assyrian conversations. Memes arise poking fun at the universal ironies in our culture, blogs of academics are discussed and shared widely, and personal connections are made. No longer are ideas trapped within a community of hundreds but are instantly made accessible universally.

The Assyrian artist who lacked an audience can now express herself, the Assyrian academic whose ideas felt unwelcome in the local parish can now freely exchange essays, the minister with a meager following can reach the faithful globally, and the LGBTQ Assyrian who felt like a minority within a minority can now find solace in an online community. Each expression of Assyrian identity can be more fully developed through a “virtual homeland” and we are only beginning to see this potential.

Efforts such as Assyrian Podcast, Shamiram Media, The Assyrian Journal, AX, Assyrian Star, Mesoportrayal, SurayeSwipe, and more have helped to create the much needed platforms to exchange ideas and discourse. In lieu of corner cafes or a physical public sphere, we have embraced social networks as replacements.

With the World Cup in full swing, perhaps Assyrians alongside other stateless peoples around the world will not feel unrepresented when their flag is not competing on the world stage. Instead, they will take to Twitter to find their Assyrian followers and online villages they have created that are eager to welcome them and discuss their shared feelings of longing (and perhaps create a meme or two). Just maybe, they will find representation on an Instagram account like Mesoportrayal and feel for the first time like they are home.

The physical struggle for self-determination in the Assyrian homeland continues; but for generations of the diaspora, we can now experience a momentary homeland – .com.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are soley those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Assyrian Journal.


Nardin Sarkis is an Assyrian-American living in Silicon Valley, where he serves as an executive board member of the Assyrian American Association of San Jose. Nardin earned his B.A. in Political Science, International Relations from the University of California at Santa Barbara and is currently a government relations professional.